Movie Review: Into the Wild

It's rare that I sit down long enough to watch a movie and even rarer that anything about it stays with me long enough to write about. But last night and today, both happened. I picked up Into the Wild at Cheapo's a few weeks ago in hopes of watching it over Thanksgiving. As it turned out, everyone at the beach had already seen it, so last night I popped it into my computer when I couldn't sleep.

I'll assume that the one or two people who still read my blog have already seen this movie when it came out in 2007 (spoilers might follow). I found it particularly compelling to watch, mostly because it hit on some themes that I've felt struggling to work their way to the top in my life as of late: escaping the norm, reinvention of oneself, ignoring society's pressures. The movie, which is based on a true story, centers on Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch), who sheds the expectations of his family after graduating from Emory and strikes off on a quixotic journey "into the wild." His goal is to make it to Alaska, and this quest for freedom and solitude ends up ultimately being more of a trap.

I joke that I never joined the Peace Corps because I have a strange habit of having to wash my feet each night before I get in bed. As I watched the McCandless character (who goes by Alexander Supertramp after he roasts his Social Security card), I found myself at stages wanting to take a shower for the guy. But part of me, even during his starving, frozen gasps at the end of the movie, felt sharp pangs of envy.

Captive horses have very little to look forward to outside of their feeding time, which causes them to become fierce and often frightening. Protecting their backs, they kick out at anything that walks behind them, pin their ears and snake their muzzles around, teeth gnashing. Even in an enclosed space, they spin and stomp, rattling the bucket with their angry nose, eyeballs rolling backward looking for predators -- or competitors.

I've felt this way lately: a rather possessive, paranoid beast with my nose stuck firmly at the bottom of a feed sack, spending half of my time looking over my shoulder and the other half reaping the rewards of whatever is put in front of me. It's a vulnerable way to live and, like McCandless believed, a way that society forces us to conform to. Things, goods, wants, needs -- all of this stacks up in our buckets and we grind our teeth and greedily look forward, wanting more of the next thing.

McCandless -- and also his alter-ego Supertramp -- escaped this cycle by heading somewhere where your only vulnerability is your actual life on Earth; your only need is food and water; your only desire is to live another day in a very harsh environment. Some skeptics later called McCandless foolish and argued that he was under prepared for the realities of wilderness. But even in his moments of foolishness, I think he was most certainly aware that he was at least living a full life -- and if we could all say that for our own moments of foolishness, we'd certainly have some interesting stories, wouldn't we.

1 Response to "Movie Review: Into the Wild"

  • rooroo Says:

    i loved this movie because it does pull you firmly in those two different directions--you respect the guy in theory, but the way we suffers and dies is so foolish that it's heartbreaking. definite parallels with the "grizzly man" who lived alongside grizzlies in a disturbingly cavalier way until they eventually tore him and his girlfriend limb from limb. i think the message is complex and so important... in both stories the compulsion to "be one" (that's oversimplification) with nature was admirable and enviable but lack of research, preparation, common sense and foresight were the ultimate downfall of the main character.

    side note, i watched two great movies this weekend, if you're looking for some more cinematic awesomeness: "the business of being born" and "food, inc." don't watch two life-changing docs in one day, too depressing. ;)

    merry christmas and happy new year, mr!!